Lessons from 3K+ founder interviews. Here’s how you can stand out.

Adele Moynihan, Associate Partner at Antler Australia, shares her tips for getting ahead in the process

Adele Moynihan

Associate Partner
June 13, 2023
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Over the four years of Antler Australia, we have received >5,000 applications and accepted ~500 founders to build with the VC, resulting in 106 investments from our first fund.

Out of those who have applied, I have personally interviewed >3,000 of these aspiring founders and experienced founders and have sat in on all Antler Australia Investment Committees. 

As a Scouting function, we hold a unique data set of assessment points across a founder’s journey from when they first apply, through the interview stages, then in the program, the Investment Committee, and as their story continues to unfold from there. As, in addition to writing the first cheque, Antler also provides follow-on capital. 

A question often asked is, “What is the founder commonality of your top-performing companies?” Now, this is an easy one and my key learning, which is central to Antler’s selection process and plays a key role in the investment decision-making framework. 

The answer: they all possess Founder DNA teamed with an unfair advantage in their field. 

The latter is usually a lot more tangible as it can be identified via years of professional specialism or academic research and so easier to identify whereas Founder DNA is often inherent wiring, showcased via values and behaviours, which in first-time founders you need to seek out via a series of clues in their backgrounds. 

This is the reason we have Founder DNA as a stand-alone interview in the Antler Australia process*. 

What is Founder DNA? 

From the Scouting function’s front-row seat at the company formation and growth stage, it is possible to crystalise that successful founders all demonstrate certain key traits, being: 

  • The relentless cadence of execution
  • Intelligence defined as creative problem solving
  • Grit
  • Strong communication skills

Let’s dig into each of these.

The relentless cadence of execution

This is the ability to turn ideas into tangible business building blocks at pace. At Antler, one of the key signals of ability we track is trajectory. This is a founder or team's ability to make meaningful progress on a week-by-week basis. Now, due to the nature of early-stage startups, pivots often occur, however, the ability to ship work and reach outcomes quickly does correlate to long-term founder success. 

When seeking to identify this at the interview stage we look to discover if they have achieved milestones earlier than they should have. Examples of these are having started university earlier than they naturally would have or reached a level of professional capability considerably ahead of their peers.

We look to uncover prospective founders' personal and professional backgrounds to uncover where they have done things earlier than they should have or have been in environments that require a continuous and high-level output.

Hint: we often ask - “What are you passionate about, and what are you doing to continuously build, learn, and improve in this area?”

Intelligence defined as creative problem solving

Academic acumen is usually easily identified via exam grades, universities attended, and other certificates of achievement. Initially at Antler, we indexed on identifying founders that held these accolades but it was very quickly apparent that while some of these individuals thrived in startup land, others did not. The reason is that academic excellence is not always correlated to problem-solving and this is the core activity of an early-stage founder. Often those with strong academic track records spend longer periods in research and less initiating either customer validation or building a ‘dirty’ first version of the product.

Our selection process is then geared to focus on identifying those with intelligence defined as creative problem solving by interviewing with questions that would show critical thinking skills. 

We look for individuals who can showcase logical thinking usually under pressure, due to time constraints or risks, environment and a creative approach to circumventing the obstacles they face.

Hint: we often ask -  “Tell me about a time you have circumvented a system to achieve an outcome.”

Grit

The early founder journey involves a lot of setbacks so it is essential for those embarking on this journey to possess a combination of perseverance, resilience, determination, and passion to overcome the challenges and obstacles that arise in building and scaling a successful business. 

“Grit” is the ability to maintain focus, drive, and motivation, even when faced with setbacks, failures, and uncertainty. It is a critical factor in entrepreneurial success, as it allows founders to stay committed to their vision and push through difficult times.

To identify this trait in Antler's founders we look to identify past examples which demonstrate where they have reached a goal that required extreme levels of perseverance, and on occasion, risks to reach.

Hint: we often ask -  “Has there been a time you’ve taken on a sustained period of risk and what was the outcome you achieved by doing so?”

Strong communication skills

Strong communication skills are essential for a founder for several reasons.

Founders need to communicate their vision, mission, and value proposition effectively to potential investors, partners, early employees and customers. This requires excellent communication skills to convey the company's unique selling points and why it is set to win.

Then, as the business matures they need to be a strong leader. This requires effective communication with team members to provide clear directions, set goals, and motivate them to achieve results. Clear and concise communication can ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives and understands their role in the company. 

In addition, one of the founders is often “the face” of the company, meaning they lead investor engagement and take on media opportunities to drive interest and unlock growth opportunities.

Finally, due to the unsteady path of founding a company, a crisis can occur and in these instances, the founders need to communicate effectively, be it negative publicity, or a financial setback. Effective communication can help to address concerns, reassure stakeholders and employees, and mitigate any long-term damage to the company's reputation.

Hint: we are obsessive about how you communicate throughout our engagement with you pre-investment, but especially during the application process. In interviews, we need to see that you can succinctly answer the questions showing logical thinking and structure. The meetings are either 15 or 20 mins in duration so use the time with purpose.

Antler Australia interview tips*

  • Be succinct in your answers. The interviews are short by design. This is to test your ability to share complex or large amounts of information clearly and concisely. We are on the lookout for logical, structured thinking.
  • Answer the question being asked. Each one has been carefully crafted to uncover specific traits to assess either Spike or Founder DNA qualities.
  • Come prepared with examples that will highlight your abilities in early-stage business building. This means those where you have operated in a high-risk environment or where you achieved results with limited resources. 
  • Be able to clearly articulate your “why you”, “why Antler”, and “why now”.

If you have been reading this thinking, “Hey, this is me!”, and you hold skills relevant to early-stage business build and/or an idea in an area you hold an unfair advantage, we would love to speak with you. 

Applications to join Antler Australia are open - apply here.


*This interview process is applicable to Antler Australia only.

Adele Moynihan

Associate Partner

Adele is responsible for leading Scouting and Angel fundraising. Scouting is a pivotal function for Antler to secure exceptional founders to build businesses with the Fund. Turning to fundraising, Antler holds a powerful angel community that deploys post Antler's initial investment. Prior to Antler, she was an early hire of now unicorn SafetyCulture and with corporate VC the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Digital Ventures.

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